There is no legal limit to the number of adults who can have PR for a child, despite the statutory restriction to only two parents.
The arrangements by which a parent may acquire PR are discriminatory; all mothers receive PR automatically, but fathers only have PR if they are married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth, or if they later acquire it in accordance with the provisions of the Children Act. These provisions require the mother’s consent; thus unmarried fathers may not perform any role in their children’s lives unless the mother wishes it. Unmarried mothers, by contrast, have the same rights as married mothers.
Another adult can acquire PR if appointed the child’s guardian – usually on the death of one parent – or by having a Residence Order made in their favour. Adoptive parents also acquire PR through the Adoption Order. When a child is in care, the local authority has PR. Step-parents do not acquire PR automatically, contrary to what they sometimes assume, and need to make an application to the court.
A father has PR:
· If he was married to the mother at the time of the birth (even if he is not on the birth certificate);
· If the child was born after 1st December 2003 and the father’s name is on the birth certificate;
· If the parents both sign a Parental Responsibility Agreement and lodge it with the court;
· If the court makes a Residence Order in his favour;
· If the court makes a Parental Responsibility Order in his favour.
The 1989 Act also emphasises ‘the fact that a person has, or does not have, Parental Responsibility for a child shall not affect any obligation which he may have in relation to the child (such as a statutory duty to maintain the child).’
Sometimes a court can overrule a parent’s PR, where the parent is making a decision deemed by the court not to be in the child’s best interests, for example where a parent is withholding medical treatment.
Another way to think of PR is in regard to legitimacy. A child whose father does not have PR is in effect illegitimate; the Children Act re-introduces illegitimacy into law which had been removed but 2 years previously.
Parental Responsibility expires when the child reaches an age at which he is able to make the decisions previously covered by PR. At the age of 16 a child can leave school, marry with parental consent, change his name, consent to sexual intercourse, consent to medical treatment, or ride a motorcycle. At the age of 18 he becomes a fully-fledged adult able to make his own decisions on all aspects of his life.
There are occasions when a father will need to provide proof that he has PR for his child, perhaps to a doctor or school, etc.
He will first need to provide proof of his own identity by providing his passport, birth certificate or photo identification, such as a driving license.
He will then need to provide a copy of one of the following documents:
· The child's Birth Certificate – to acquire PR the father and mother must have registered the child's birth together on or after 1st December 2003; OR
· The Marriage Certificate; OR
· A Parental or Step-Parental Responsibility Agreement; OR
· A Copy of a Court Order giving father parental responsibility – leave of the Court will be necessary to show this to anyone.
Under Section 2(9) of the Children Act you can delegate PR to someone acting on your behalf, thus if you have a Contact Order specifying who collects your child, or prohibiting collection by someone else, collection can be delegated by you.
A person who has Parental Responsibility for a child may not surrender or transfer any part of that responsibility to another but may arrange for some or all of it to be met by one or more persons acting on his behalf.
Under section 4(2A) of the Children Act the court can take away an unmarried father’s PR (but not that of a mother) if he has acquired PR in one of the following ways:
· He has been registered as the father on his child’s birth certificate;
· He and the child’s mother have made a Parental Responsibility Agreement;
· The court has ordered that he should have Parental Responsibility.
A court can also take PR away from any parent by means of a Declaration of Non-Parentage under Section 55A of the Family Law Act 1986. Section 55A(1) of this Act also provides for any person with ‘sufficient personal interest’ to apply to the Magistrates’ Court or preferably to the County Court or High Court for a declaration (of Parentage or Non-Parentage) as to whether or not a person named in the application is or was a parent of a child.
Procedure is provided by the Family Proceedings Courts (Family Law Act 1986) Rules 2001.
There is no downloadable form for this application and you will need to obtain Form FL423 directly from a court. You then fill it in between a series of bullet points. You must also complete and swear an affidavit. The completed application must be given to a circuit judge or higher for approval.
This is an irrevocable step, and not one to be taken lightly.
Both parents will also lose PR if their child is adopted.
Fathers: if during a parenting dispute a DNA test proves you are not the biological father you will lose PR. You cannot apply for a Parental Responsibility Order, and if the mother is trying to marginalise you your only option is a Shared Residence Order which will automatically confer PR; there has been some recent success in this area. You can still be awarded a Contact Order, but you will not have PR for the child. This arrangement is not made clear in the Children Act, but it derives from the legal definition of fatherhood, which relies initially on genetic paternity.